Rejoice in Suffering

Posted on February 12, 2021

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By David Ettinger

Such an Instruction!
I don’t know anyone who rejoices in suffering, but this is what the apostle Paul calls on believers to do:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings … (Romans 5:1-3, emphasis added).

Breaking down the above 3 verses, we love those first 2. We love being “justified by faith” – meaning our sins have been forgiven and we are no longer children of wrath. As such we “have peace with God” – which we love. Also, we are the recipients of God’s grace – the unmerited favor He granted us – and in it we “stand,” or abide, and this, too, we love.

Then comes this: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.” It’s fascinating that Paul regards suffering as desirable as our justification, peace, and grace. In fact, Paul considers suffering for Christ as something to be rejoiced over!

Other Bible translations of the phrase “rejoice in our sufferings” are:

  •  “glory in tribulations” (KJV)
  •  “glory in our sufferings” (NIV)
  •  “rejoice in our afflictions” (Holman)
  •  “celebrate in our tribulations” (NASB)

This instruction seems unfathomable to 21st century Westerners with our cushy existences and persecution-free lives. Why would Paul say such a thing?

The Word “Suffering”
I’m using the ESV. For the word “suffering,” other translations use “tribulation,” “affliction,” “trouble,” “anguish,” and “persecution.”

The Greek word for “suffering” is a rather famous one, thlipsis, and figures prominently in Matthew 24, verses 9, 21, and 29. Thlipsis also figures prominently in one of the more beloved New Testament verses, John 16:33: “In the world you will have tribulation [thlipsis]. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Not only is the meaning of thlipsis intense, but so is its connotation. Thlipsis implies a kind of suffering, persecution, affliction, and tribulation which involves excruciating pressure. The word comes from an ancient form of punishment where the guilty party was strapped down on the ground or on a table. Next, heavy stone after heavy stone was stacked upon his chest until the pressure of the collected stones killed him.

This is where the word thlipsis comes from, and it refers to most extreme of sufferings. And THIS is what Paul encourages us to rejoice in!

The Reason
Paul is no sadist or glutton for punishment. Rather, he recognizes the importance of living for Christ (Philippians 1:21) and growing in Him, and living the “easy life” is not the way to do it. The only way we can truly grow in Christ is to suffer for Christ, as Paul teaches:

… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Many Western Christians bemoan the attacks upon our faith and religious freedoms, but we better get used to it. The Bible will come under more attack, and efforts will be made to ban it. Efforts will also be made to outlaw church attendance. It could well be that Western Christians will follow our brothers and sisters in the persecuted countries by having to go underground.

Yes, suffering ­– thlipsis­ – is coming, and coming fast. But rather than dreading it, Paul encourages believers to embrace it as it will build our faith in ways we could never imagine.

Therefore, as foreign as it seems to our Western ears, let us not only expect suffering to come our way, but to rejoice over it when it does, as it will produce in us a hope in our Savior which will cause our spirits to soar!